The Orionid meteor shower peaks this week, but don't expect to see many 'shooting stars'

This composite of four photos taken by Sergio Garcia Rill, an astrophotographer in October 2017, shows Orionid meteors streaking through the starry skies above Big Bend National Park, Texas. (Image credit: Sergio Garcia Rill
If you ask anyone to name a camet, there is a 90% chance that it will be Halley's. The most well-known of all comets, Halley’s orbit orbits the sun in an elliptical orbit. This orbit takes it beyond Neptune's orbit and as close as Venus' orbit. It takes approximately 75 years to complete. Halley last visited the sun in 1986. It will be returning to Earth's orbit in 2061.

It'd be great to meet Halley again when it returns. But that's unlikely to happen. It's not like I was 30 when it last appeared. I'll keep my vitamins up and wish a lot, but you have to do the math. It is possible but not likely. You and I may be able to see a little bit of Halley "comet litter" in the next few mornings if meteors are zipping through our atmosphere.

At two points, the orbit of Halley’s Comet is very close to Earth's orbit. The Eta Aquarids meteor display is produced at one point, which is in the first part of May. The Orionid meteors are produced at the other point, in the middle to late part of October.

Related: Orionid meteor Shower 2021: When and where to see it

The biggest handicap to viewing in 2021

On Thursday, Oct. 21, the Orionid meteor shower will peak. In ideal conditions, 20 meteors per hour can be seen under a dark sky. For approximately two days, the shower is at about one-quarter strength.

However, there is one major problem if you are planning to look for meteors this year. It's a nearly full moon. In 2021, the full moon in October will be known as "Hunter's Moon", and it will take place Wednesday, Oct. 20. It will then start to dim, but it will still be nearly full tomorrow morning when the Orionids reach their peak.

These streaks of light will most likely be obscured by the moonlight. A bright Orionid meteor darting out of the Orionid region (from which we get "Orionid") may still be visible.

Skywatchers can begin looking for Orion in the eastern sky as early as dawn on any morning between Oct. 20-21. This setup can be seen from mid-northern locations. Although Orion is the radiant or point of origin for meteors, they can also appear far away from it. Starry Night Software, image credit

They travel 41 miles (66 km) per second and appear as fast streaks. However, their speed is only a hair faster than their spring sisters, The Eta Aquarids. Like the Eta Aquarid meteor Shower, the brightest shooting stars tend to leave lasting trains.

Studies have actually shown that approximately half of Orionids seen leaving trails last longer than other meteors with the same brightness.

What to do and where to look

The Orion constellation, from which Orionid meteors are derived, is visible ahead of us on our journey around the sun. It hasn't fully risen above the eastern sky until after 11:11 p.m. local time. Orion is at its most visible in the morning hours, around 5 a.m. Orion is the highest in the sky towards the south. One of the few meteor showers known to be equally visible from both the Northern or Southern Hemispheres is Orionids.

Around Oct. 17, the first forerunners appear, Orionid activity tends increase noticeably. Activity will slow down after peaking around the morning of October 21. It will then drop to a few per hour by Oct. 25. Sometimes, the last remaining stragglers are visible into November.

Comet crumbs

If you do happen to see one in the morning, remember that it is likely that you will be seeing an incandescent streak that was produced by material from Halley's Comet's nucleus. These tiny pieces of comet collide with Earth and cause friction to raise their temperature to white heat, a phenomenon commonly called "shooting stars".

It is so that the Orionids, the shooting stars we now call, are actually an encounter with the traces a famous visitor from beyond space and before the dawn of time.

Editor's note: If you have an amazing skywatching photo you'd like to share with and our news partners for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at

Joe Rao is an instructor at the Hayden Planetarium in New York. He is a writer on astronomy for Natural History magazine and the Farmers' Almanac, among other publications. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @Spacedotcom